I’ve written a number of times about Oprah’s support for absurd medical claims, and Dr. David Gorski does a great job detailing the history of Oprah’s ability to elevate quacks from obscurity to stardom. Given her latest debacle of taking Jenny McCarthy into her fold, I though I’d explore her website’s health section a bit, just to see what’s going on. It turns out Oprah’s website is the epicenter of the medical crank-o-sphere. Let’s take a little trip.
All About Homeopathy
Oprah has a nice, long section on the pre-scientific religion of homeopathy. It’s so internally inconsistent that it’s hard to believe my CPU is still intact.
Homeopathy is based on the Law of Similars, a principle of “like cures like.”
A key principle with homeopathy is that energy–called a vital force–lies within each one of us. Health problems are said to develop if this vital force or energy is blocked or disrupted. In fact, homeopathy views symptoms of illness as normal responses of the body as it attempts to regain health.
Which is it, similars, or vitalism? Both are pre-scientific—nearly pre-literate—ideas that have nothing to do with the way the body works.
Homeopathy treatment is similar to how a vaccination or immunization works. The immune system becomes stimulated with tiny doses of diluted substances. These diluted substances then help the body build its own defenses.
No, no, no! Homeopathy is in no way similar to vaccination. Vaccination depends on biologically sound, easy-to-evaluate manipulation of the immune system. You can measure the antibody response provoked by a vaccine. You cannot measure anything provoked by homeopathy because the only thing homeopathy produces is a bill.
Is Homeopathy Proven to Work?
There are different theories behind homeopathy. But lack of convincing evidence is a big concern with homeopathy’s acceptance by conventional medical doctors.
Critics claim that homeopathic remedies are so diluted, the only benefit received is placebo, a positive outcome that may be imagined.
Still, there is some evidence to show that homeopathic remedies may be helpful. This is especially true when it comes to improving chronic conditions such as allergies or asthma.
No! Homeopathy’s “lack of convincing evidence” is not some problem we uptight “conventional doctors” have—it is the fundamental problem (along with the absurdity of it) with homeopathy. It has not been shown to work. This is rather important in medicine.
Hosting information about homeopathy fulfills Ullman’s Law—bringing up homeopathy in a serious medical discussion gets you justifiably laughed out of the room.
Is there hope?
Relying on a talk show host for medical information is always problematic. It’s also not that easy to translate medical information into everyday language. Oprah has unique reach, so she has a unique responsibility.
And her site isn’t devoid of good information. For example, she has a short piece debunking so-called blood type diets. But Oprah’s over-reliance on her intuition rather than competent medical experts insures a mediocre future (that, and her hiring of Jenny McCarthy, doyenne of the disease promotion movement).
Like it or not, what Oprah does matters. We need to hold her accountable for her actions.